Thursday, February 21, 2013

Combatting the Critics

I've spent a lot of today on twitter, joining in the general chorus of indignation which has (happily) erupted as a response to an article by some bloke called Alan Swann published in the Peterborough Telegraph (yes, clearly an extremely famous and well-respected publication, ahem). I'm not going to put the link on this blog, because I've already increased traffic to the poxy publication far too much (and you can google it if you really want to), but here are the key sections relating to women's cricket:

Never before can so much screen time have been awarded to a sport that provokes as little interest as women’s cricket. I followed the World Cup on Sky Sports because local girl Charlotte Edwards is the England captain, but I hope she will forgive me when I say her sport is as dull as..... well pretty much every other sport that involves solely females. It’s a biological statement rather than a sexist one, but women just don’t push my buttons in a sporting sense. They aren’t quick enough, and they aren’t strong enough which should be enough to ensure that they aren’t as richly rewarded in terms of prize money or funding. England’s lady cricketers, have benefitted from some clever marketing in the past notably by staging Twenty/20 matches as warm-up encounters ahead of a men’s international. But such an innovation can backfire. Comparisons between the male and female versions of the game are inevitable, and unflattering to the fairer sex. True, the ladies have started to hit more sixes, but as the batters generally face a set of trundlers, it may not mean that much.The standard of ladies cricket looks pretty low to me. I wouldn’t expect any England player to be able to hold a place down in Peterborough Town’s starting XI for a Northants Premier League match. I know Arran Brindle once cracked a ton against Market Deeping in the Lincs Premier Division, but that’s a sub-standard competition and Deeping haven’t had a decent bowler since their groundsman’s heyday in the early 1960s. ...
Of course I’m certain to be accused of blatant sexism by the hard-of-thinking and the easily-outraged, but the viewing figures and live attendance totals will back my opinion up. Those numbers should also be taken into account when sports funds are allocated. Financial help should be determined by the level of public interest and not by the desire to chase a few cheap medals. Otherwise it’s just a waste.
(If you would like to contact the publication expressing outrage, please do so. You can tweet them at @peterboroughtel or email

Naturally, I hesitate to give this sort of drivel the publicity it does NOT deserve. However, some of the responses on twitter, as well as the very fact that the folks at the Peterborough Telegraph saw fit to publish the article in the first place, indicate that these kinds of attitudes remain both acceptable and common parlance in the world of sport in the 21st century.

Few people would describe the situation in as extreme a way as Alan "Sexist Pig" Swann, but I have heard many statements similar to the above expressed in everyday conversation regarding the women's game, and I'm sure others have as well. Additionally, even if such sentiments are not expressed outright, it is clearly still the case that women's cricket is severely under-reported and receives less exposure than it deserves. Cricket is still considered Blokey (I wrote a post on this a few weeks back, but I'm not sure anyone read it). Many journalists and bloggers who I deeply respect, and who are far more talented than me when it comes to analysis of the game of cricket generally, ignore women's cricket completely when a major tournament is not ongoing.

I therefore think that it is worth considering some of the issues which have been raised by today's debate, in a rational and considered manner (which is not generally possible in 140 characters), and establishing how, when faced with inaccurate statements regarding women's cricket, we as fans should respond.

Here goes:

Inaccurate statement #1: Women's cricket is dull, so no one should bother investing in it.

Though it's not often said outright, I actually think quite a few people would agree with this statement. In the era of "T20 is god" cricket, the fact that you don't see a ton of mis-hit sixes in every single women's game appears to devalue it as entertainment in many people's eyes.

How to respond? Well firstly, I'm sure almost everyone would admit that men's cricket is sometimes dull. The middle overs of an ODI? Watching a team amass 700+ runs on the first two days of a Test match on a batsman's paradise pitch? The last session on the fifth day of a high-scoring draw? I love all these things about cricket - but it doesn't mean that every moment is scintillating.

It is of course okay to find women's cricket dull. I don't watch football for precisely that reason. The key point is that it's a matter of opinion. Frankly, I'd rather watch a game where runs are scored through skill and tenacity, than one where the ball is blasted over the head of the bowler a few of times an over (that's why I will always prefer Test cricket). But that's up to me. One person's opinion of the sport should not dictate to others what they should and should not invest time and money in.

The reason why the Alan Swann piece is misogynistic, therefore, is not because he finds women's cricket dull, but because he concluded the piece by suggesting that his opinion of women's sport makes the whole shebang not worth investing in. This argument is based on several other inaccuracies, which I will now deal with:

Inaccurate statement #2: Women's cricket is not as good as men's cricket, so no one should bother investing in it. (This is often expressed in the form of "I could play for England Women", or some such similar claptrap.)

I hear this all the time - most recently regarding the whole Sarah Taylor hoohah. The point is, one isn't better or worse. They are DIFFERENT. The comparison is redundant - it's like showing up for a T20 match featuring KP, and having to sit through a day's Test cricket with Boycott at the crease. If you're expecting women's cricket to be exactly the same as men's cricket, you probably will be disappointed.

We need to stop with the endless comparisons. It devalues the women's game and gives people like Alan Swann a voice. The media should be covering the women's game on its own terms (and they also need to give it a damn sight more coverage, but that's a separate point).

NB: If you do end up in conversation with someone who implies they would fare well against a women's side, it's worth delving a little deeper. You may well end up finding out that the bloke in question's claim to fame is that he once scored 25 for Peterborough Town.

Inaccurate statement #3: No one turns up to watch women's cricket, so it clearly isn't as worthwhile as men's cricket and no one should bother investing in it.

Two key points here: firstly, it is completely absurd to suggest that the value of a sport is in direct proportion with how many people turn up to watch it. Seriously, what?! It's like saying all Test matches played in England are automatically better than those played in India, purely because tickets always sell out. Ridiculous.

Secondly, I will admit that yes, it is disappointing that so few people turn up to watch women's games, even World Cup games. But the answer isn't to say "oh well, it must be rubbish then" and bugger off to the pub for a pint. The answer is to treat the women's game with respect by giving it more publicity - both in advance, so that locals are aware a match is going on, and during, so that people can follow the sport properly. The lack of decent publicity has always been a problem for the women's game, and has meant that it has not been able to develop the same kind of fan base as men's cricket. As coverage increases, as we saw during the recent World Cup, the fan base will develop - and this in turn will encourage more people to turn up to matches in person.

Which takes me on to inaccuracy number 4:

Inaccurate statement #4: The media should not bother reporting on women's cricket because no one is interested.

This is one of those stupid circular arguments. As I've just argued, people will not be interested in a sport that they cannot read about, watch on TV, or follow in the media. On the other hand, if women's cricket is regularly reported, it will become part of the sporting map and people will accept it as such.

Look at what happened with English cricket during the 2005 Ashes series. A whole load of people became fans of the game who didn't give a rat's arse about Test matches before the series started. Do you think they would have suddenly become transfixed if the matches hadn't been televised, and the games hadn't made the front pages of all the newspapers? I don't think so.

Of course, that requires a high enough standard in the women's game to produce the kind of exciting matches we've just witnessed in the World Cup. Which requires investment - which brings me neatly back to finances:

Inaccurate statement #5: Because the standard is lower. female cricketers should not be paid as much as male cricketers.

This seemed to be the main point of the aforementioned article. Which just goes to show that he hadn't done his research. Nowhere in the world are women's cricketers paid anywhere near what their male counterparts earn.

This is, of course, nothing to do with the standard. It's because we don't yet have fully-professional female cricketers. Maybe we will one day, but in the meantime the financial situation in which the women's game finds itself leads to the final inaccurate statement of the day:

Inaccurate statement #6: Men's cricket subsidises women's cricket, and this is a waste of valuable resources.

The first part of this statement is obviously true. For example, in England, some of the revenue which men's cricket generates is used to enable female England cricketers to play semi-professionally.

However, as people have pointed out on twitter, Test cricket is also used to subsidise English county cricket. The logical conclusion of this argument would therefore be that county cricket is also a waste of resources.

The point is that it's not all about instant profit-maximisation - or it shouldn't be. The English counties develop the players who are the England match-winners of the future. Similarly, increased investment in the women's game in England enabled us to produce a team of world-beaters (in 2009 England's women won every match they played). Can you put a value on that in pounds?

I'd also say this: given enough investment, and media coverage, I genuinely believe that eventually elite women's cricket will pay for itself. What's required is a little bit of patience. Unfortunately, misogyny doesn't seem to allow for that.

Here's what I'd say to those of Alan Swann's ilk: It's okay to find women's cricket dull, and maybe even to pose some of the questions above. But it's not okay to use your own ignorance of and lack of appreciation for women's cricket to conclude that a game which millions play, follow, and are passionate about, should be consigned to second-class status. That is what Alan Swann has done in his article and that is what others have tried and will keep trying to do as long as they are allowed to. That is misogynistic. That is what we are up against.

And that, ultimately, is why I'm writing this blog.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post.

    I'm a bloke and love watching the women's game.

    I was following the WWC at work on Cricinfo, and certain male colleagues made the inevitable "I could get in these teams" type of remarks.

    They then got offended when I pointed out that their middle aged spread, creaking joints and, you know, complete lack of skill would get in the way of such lofty ambitions.

    It seems that certain male cricket fans are only interested in the male version of the game and even then as long as England, or their team, is winning.

    The more enlightened of us «stops to adjust halo» love the game in most of its forms (Is it wrong of me to not like the IPL? Those bacofoil kits, Ravi Shastri's bombast, it all seems so vulgar) and appreciate each one on its own terms.

    Keep fighting the good fight.